A view of the Yew Point area at the top of the photo, jutting out into Lough Ree.

Hodson Bay eco resort gets council planning go-ahead

Plans to develop a 36-cabin eco-friendly tourist resort at Hodson Bay in Athlone have been given the green light by Roscommon County Council.

In a decision signed off on Friday last, the local authority granted permission for the development, subject to 22 conditions.

The resort, at Yew Point, Hodson Bay, in the townland of Barrymore, is to include 12 family cabins and 24 two-person cabins, which would be "raised on stilts above ground levels, to conserve existing ground conditions and preserve through routes for movement of wildlife".

Fáilte Ireland expressed support for the project late last year, saying it would "add to the high-quality accommodation stock at the existing Hodson Bay Hotel" and would "enhance the visitor experience within the Ireland's Hidden Heartlands region".

First mooted in 2021, the plan for the facility was drawn up by New Island Resorts Limited, which has Hodson Bay Group chairman John O'Sullivan, and his son Johnny, as directors.

Speaking to the Westmeath Independent yesterday (Tuesday), Johnny O'Sullivan said it had been exciting to work on the development of a facility that represented "the future of tourism, in a sense".

He said extensive reports on the biodiversity and ecology of the site had been carried out over a two-and-a-half-year period, and these contributed to a resort being designed which was "ideally suited" to its environment.

"This is regenerative tourism, which is not just carbon neutral but is actually beneficial to the environment and the ecology around it," he said.

He pointed out that the project would include the regeneration of woodlands towards the centre of the Yew Point, with the "extensive" planting of native Irish trees there.

Pending any possible appeal to An Bord Pleanála, Mr O'Sullivan said work on the carbon neutral manufacturing of the cabins would be taking place "off site", and it was possible that the first cabins might even be installed later this year.

He said it was more likely, however, that the development would be getting up and running next year.

It's thought that some 40 to 50 people will be directly employed at the resort, which is also expected to generate spinoff employment in the tourist sector locally.

An economic impact assessment submitted with the application estimated that visitors to Yew Point could generate between €35 million and €38 million in tourism spending over the next decade.

The report said these figures "conservatively assume" an estimated spend of €150 per visitor per night.

The application, submitted last November, was bolstered by a letter of support from Fáilte Ireland official Shane Dineen, who manages Environment and Planning at the tourism authority.

"From a tourism perspective, Fáilte Ireland is supportive of the proposed development in line with all proper planning, environmental and sustainability requirements being met," Mr Dineen stated.

A description of the development said it would be "low density" and "low carbon", and would use renewable energy sources.

In addition to the 36 accommodation cabins, there are plans for four "timber guest shelters" across the site, as well as a covered shelter "to facilitate the charging and storing of electric golf buggies".

The 22 conditions attached to Roscommon County Council's grant of planning permission included that the developer would engage an archaeologist "to monitor all topsoil stripping associated with the development".

The local authority also included a requirement that a development contribution of €38,940 be made to it by New Island Resorts Limited.

Four submissions on the plans were received on behalf of members of the public last month.

One of the submissions, from teacher and wildlife conservationist Ruairí Ó Leocháin, referred to badger setts on the Yew Point peninsula and described the area as a valuable otter habitat.

"No development should take place in this area. Current planning documents underestimate and even overlook the ecological damage which could be done should any development take place at Yew Point," Mr Ó Leocháin wrote.

A submission from Dermot Keenan of the Keenan family, Curramore, Kiltoom, wished "the O'Sullivan family, who we hold in high regard, the very best of luck with their application".

However, Mr Keenan took issue with zoning that had been applied by the council in respect of lands owned by his family in the Hodson Bay area.

He wrote that as detailed to council officials "it was and still is our intention to put a similar development on our lands".

"We would sincerely hope the council in approving the application at Yew Point would show the same level of fairness to our family in the future," Mr Keenan stated.

Another submission was jointly made on behalf of Damien Kelly, Crannaghmore, Athlone, and Vincent and Phyllis Waters, Donadea, Kildare. Mr Kelly and Mr and Mrs Waters, and their families, were described as "long-time residents" and "significant landowners" in the area.

Their submission welcomed the proposed development and referred to the "importance of Hodson Bay to the tourism offer in the region," saying there were opportunities to "further develop this in a sustainable manner".

The submission welcomed a commitment in the Roscommon County Development Plan that the council would "engage with all relevant stakeholders on feasibility into the further development of Hodson Bay/Barrymore as a major amenity area".

Another submission, from Melissa O'Neill, on behalf of the O'Neill family, which owns No. 6 Yew Point, Barrymore, referred to the wildlife in the area, including bats, otters, badgers and kingfishers.

Ms O'Neill's submission included a suggested location for the entrance point to the eco resort, and called for a prohibition on the use of personal watercraft such as jet skis.

She also stated that "no licensed hospitality should be permitted within the development" and "open-air amplified music" should also not be allowed there.